The best books about mate choice – in animals

Who am I?

I am an evolutionary ecologist with a lifelong fascination with mating behavior in animals, particularly fishes. The core of my doctoral thesis was trying to understand why some males mate with females of a different species, a behavior that I thought could not be adaptive. This was the starting point of my work on male mate choice, but also mate choice more generally. Originally from Germany, I have lived and worked in the US for a long time. Most of my work is on neotropical fishes so moving to America made sense.

I wrote...

Male Choice, Female Competition, and Female Ornaments in Sexual Selection

By Ingo Schlupp,

Book cover of Male Choice, Female Competition, and Female Ornaments in Sexual Selection

What is my book about?

As Charles Darwin developed his theory of natural selection, he noticed that the existence of highly ornamented males was a problem. How could such traits as the tail of a peacock evolve and be maintained when it clearly made the owner more likely to be detected by predators? Darwin’s solution was to propose sexual selection, where traits can be adaptive because the owner leaves behind more offspring due to the two mechanisms he proposed: female choice or male competition.

I argue that in addition to these two mechanisms, males also choose their mates and females compete for partners. The role of this has not been fully recognized and needs much more attention. My book provides a fresh look at the field with many amazing examples.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Mate Choice: The Evolution of Sexual Decision Making from Microbes to Humans

Why did I love this book?

I loved reading this book and I have used it in teaching. This is the most comprehensive book on mate choice. It will be defining the field for a long time. Rosenthal looks at everything that has to do with mate choice and provides an authoritative view of mate choice. He looks at the complexity of mate choice in its full range. If you look for the most complete book on mate choice, this is it.

By Gil Rosenthal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mate Choice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A major new look at the evolution of mating decisions in organisms from protozoans to humans The popular consensus on mate choice has long been that females select mates likely to pass good genes to offspring. In Mate Choice, Gil Rosenthal overturns much of this conventional wisdom. Providing the first synthesis of the topic in more than three decades, and drawing from a wide range of fields, including animal behavior, evolutionary biology, social psychology, neuroscience, and economics, Rosenthal argues that "good genes" play a relatively minor role in shaping mate choice decisions and demonstrates how mate choice is influenced by…

Book cover of A Taste for the Beautiful: The Evolution of Attraction

Why did I love this book?

This book is reflecting on the evolution of beauty and attraction. Ryan uses a large number of examples from his own research, including the Tungara frog, a species he has been working on for many decades. He combines this with personal stories about how the research came about and about the people he interacted with. This is a highly readable, fun book on a serious topic. 

By Michael J. Ryan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Taste for the Beautiful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the world's leading authorities on animal behavior, the astonishing story of how the brain drives the evolution of beauty in animals and humans

In A Taste for the Beautiful, Michael Ryan, one of the world's leading authorities on animal behavior, tells the remarkable story of how he and other scientists have taken up where Darwin left off, transforming our understanding of sexual selection and shedding new light on animal and human behavior. Drawing on cutting-edge science, Ryan explores key questions: Why do animals perceive certain traits as beautiful and others not? Do animals have an inherent sexual…

Book cover of Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

Why did I love this book?

This fascinating book reflects on the development of Darwin’s thinking as he was developing his theory of Sexual Selection. Superbly detailed and well crafted this book provides astonishing insights into how Darwin was thinking and how he fleshed out sexual selection theory. The book is not just important for understanding Darwin and one of his most famous ideas, it places his thinking in the context of his time. It is a long book, but worth the read.

By Evelleen Richards,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Darwin's concept of natural selection has been exhaustively studied, but his secondary evolutionary principle of sexual selection remains largely unexplored and misunderstood. Yet sexual selection was of great strategic importance to Darwin because it explained things that natural selection could not and offered a naturalistic, as opposed to divine, account of beauty and its perception. Only now, with Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection, do we have a comprehensive and meticulously researched account of Darwin's path to its formulation one that shows the man, rather than the myth, and examines both the social and intellectual roots of Darwin's theory.…

Book cover of Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology

Why did I love this book?

When Darwin proposed the two mechanisms of sexual selection, one was almost immediately embraced by his Victorian contemporaries: male competition. Female choice, on the other hand, had to wait almost 100 years to be fully recognized. This book is an account of the history of female choice and provides fascinating insights into the development of a scientific discipline and how it is intertwined with society. Well written and very accessible, this is a great read.

By Erika L. Milam,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Looking for a Few Good Males as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why do female animals select certain mates, and how do scientists determine the answer? In considering these questions, Erika Lorraine Milam explores the fascinating patterns of experiment and interpretation that emerged as twentieth-century researchers studied sexual selection and female choice. Approaching the topic from both biological and animal-studies perspectives, Milam not only presents a broad history of sexual selection-from Darwin to sociobiology-but also analyzes the animal-human continuum from the perspectives of sex, evolution, and behavior. She asks how social and cultural assumptions influence human-animal research and wonders about the implications of gender on scientific outcomes. Although female choice appears to…

Book cover of Sexual Selections: What We Can and Can't Learn about Sex from Animals

Why did I love this book?

Written by one of the great experts in the field this wonderful book takes a look at animal sexual behavior broadly. It introduces the amazing complexity of adaptations to sex and how they evolved. What is plain fascinating to the biologist may be a little odd to humans from time to time, but we have to learn not to view everything from a human perspective. This book is written for a broad audience and is very easy to read.

By Marlene Zuk,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sexual Selections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Scientific discoveries about the animal kingdom fuel ideological battles on many fronts, especially battles about sex and gender. We now know that male marmosets help take care of their offspring. Is this heartening news for today's stay-at-home dads? Recent studies show that many female birds once thought to be monogamous actually have chicks that are fathered outside the primary breeding pair. Does this information spell doom for traditional marriages? And bonobo apes take part in female-female sexual encounters. Does this mean that human homosexuality is natural? This highly provocative book clearly shows that these are the wrong kinds of questions…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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